In The News › EDITORIAL: Time for action

Dec 16, 2007

Source: Times-Picayune

EDITORIAL: Time for action

EDITORIAL: Time for action
Sunday, December 16, 2007

For months now, Mayor Ray Nagin and Recovery Director Ed Blakely have cited funding difficulties as the main obstacle to launch New Orleans’ initial rebuilding plan centered on 17 target zones.

That hurdle, however, is about to go away, and City Hall must get ready to put hundreds of millions of dollars to work and bring on the proverbial cranes Mr. Blakely predicted in the spring.

The city’s recovery picture got a big shot in the arm Tuesday, when the Louisiana Recovery Authority approved $294 million for infrastructure. That raised to $840 million the money available to the city now or in the next few months. That total also includes $117 million in previous LRA money, a $300 million revolving fund from the state, $75 million in bonds to be sold this month and $54 million in federal highway money for street repairs.

The mayor and other city officials made their case to the LRA last week saying the city needed cash to show residents that public infrastructure will be rebuilt. Now the administration needs to make sure City Hall does not become the next obstacle, and LRA members made that clear.

“The citizens of New Orleans need this now, so I strongly urge you now that the money is coming down the pipeline to get it done,” said LRA member Kim Boyle, who lives in Gentilly.

The administration has had problems with its follow-through in the past, launching programs without laying a proper foundation, as with the much-troubled Good Neighbor program. That can’t keep occurring if the public is to gain confidence in the city’s ability to manage its part of the rebuilding. Mayor Nagin needs to make sure important recovery departments, such as permitting and code enforcement, work efficiently and are prepared to handle increased demand.

Just as important is to give the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority the resources and tools it needs to live up to the promise Mayor Nagin made when he revamped its board and powers last year. The agency is expected to get 7,000 properties from Road Home buyouts next year.

The city should also review how it deals with blight in general. Currently, NORA and three city departments handle blight, in a process the Bureau of Governmental Research criticized last week as fragmented and confusing. The organization recommended that, as much as possible, anti-blight functions be consolidated under one entity. NORA is the obvious choice, but the agency’s record is dismal. The mayor and NORA’s board ought to make it a priority to get the agency in shape.

In addition, the administration has not been very forthcoming in keeping residents up to date on what will be rebuilt and when. In September, for example, residents learned details of the 17-zone plan submitted to the City Council only because The Times-Picayune obtained a copy, not because City Hall released it. And the Board of Liquidation-City Debt postponed for months a vote on the sale of $75 million in bonds for infrastructure improvements until the city provided details on what it planned to do with the money.

Even now, residents don’t have an easy way to access comprehensive data on the rebuilding plan and the progress of individual projects. The city’s much-touted One New Orleans recovery Web site offers data on private investment, such as building and commercial permits, and some public projects like streets lights and sewerage repairs. But people cannot track progress on proposals for the 17 recovery areas or other major plans such as the proposed hospital district downtown.

That information, down to individual work orders that track progress on specific projects, can and should be easily available for residents and businesses considering whether to rebuild.

Mayor Nagin has said 2008 will be the “tipping point” in the city’s recovery — the year in which New Orleanians will begin to see major rebuilding efforts in public infrastructure. It needs to be. Residents and business owners, who have been driving the recovery, are running out of patience waiting for the city to catch up.

As City Council President Arnie Fielkow told the LRA last week, 2008 also will be “the year that people will make the decision to either reinvest in our community or to make the decision not to do so.”

What New Orleanians decide will depend, in no small part, on whether the city does its part. City Hall, get ready.

Dec 16, 2007

Source: Times-Picayune

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